Makes you feel kind of special, right?
This is the first movement of Nouwen’s explanation of the spiritual life: our chosen-ness. “When love chooses, it chooses with a perfect sensitivity for the unique beauty of the chosen one …,” Nouwen writes. In other words, God sees the fullness of our distinctiveness (for He shaped us that way, after all).
Chosen-ness, for Nouwen, is not a matter of us being “better” than others. Chosen-ness does not depend on other people being not chosen. It is not a badge of pride to wear to make one feel superior. Rather it is a resting in the deep, deep love of God.
We have “dark voices” that war against this idea of chosen-ness. Nouwen describes these voices as being a part of the “…net of a suffocating world that accepts or rejects us according to its own agenda of effectivity and control.” These are the voices that continually tell us that God’s love for us is rooted in our performance. They convey that our worth is built on our accomplishments. These voices sometimes even come from people who love us and have a wonderful plan for our lives.
Nouwen counsels that we can rest in chosen-ness by developing the discipline of gratitude for God’s grace toward us. He reminds us how tricky this can be – that gratitude is an effort and a choice:
“Where there is a reason for gratitude, there can always be found a reason for bitterness. It is here that we are faced with the freedom to make a decision. We can decide to be grateful or to be bitter. We can decide to recognize our chosenness in the moment or we can decide to focus on the shadow side. When we persist in looking at the shadow side, we will eventually end up in the dark.”
Here’s the rub: some of Nouwen’s language in this section doesn’t quite ring for me. He flirts with universalism here – a place I’m just not prepared to go. I find Nouwen’s words, however, to be a helpful description of what it is to experience the spiritual rebirth that the Holy Spirit works within.
Consider this: we are dead to spiritual things; they are baffling to us. And in that deadness, we carry about a vague sense of inner “wrongness” which we try to cover up with any number of activities and self-improvement schemes. While self-improvement may be of short term practical benefit, there is still a deeper spiritual dryness that remains unaddressed.
And then we come alive, not by our own efforts, but through God chiseling through our veneer of competence. It might be when we are confronted by grandeur in nature; it might be through the compassionate acts of another. Maybe we are challenged by a powerful sermon, or we are nudged by a work of art. More likely, God uses a platoon of agents, some blatant and some subtle, to communicate to us that He is there and He is calling us to Him through Jesus Christ.
And when we come alive, we begin to see how God sees us as “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). We begin to see that God views us through the lens of grace – that we are vessels of His glory. We begin to see that every human being is a divine image bearer.
What’s more, we begin to see the divine fingerprint on every corner of creation. We begin to perceive how it is that the very rocks could cry out “Hosanna!” When we’ve been chosen, been made alive by the Holy Spirit, we begin to see that everything created in the universe sings its own hymn of praise to its Creator. And we grasp that we have been chosen to recognize the underlying hum of “Gloria” through all of creation, and to call attention to it.
That is what it is to be chosen. When we recognize our own dignity and glory in a true, humble, and godly way, then we become further equipped to perceive God’s glory crackling through the rest of creation. Our chosen-ness shouldn’t diminish others, but should rather lead to a deeper recognition of the glory and dignity of others.
More to come as we address the next movements: Blessed, Broken, and Given
Soli Deo Gloria
Like this post? Be sure to sign up for the monthly Possible Horizons newsletter. You’ll receive a monthly digest of the best posts from this blog.